The following is guest editorial that was written by Denise Dowling, firstname.lastname@example.org, Associate Professor and Chair, Radio-Television Department, at The University of Montana.
The University of Montana is not a happy place to work these days. We’ve had the wind knocked out of us as we’ve been pummeled with accusations of rape, complicity and cover up on our campus. It’s forced a collective gasp from us, the employees of UM, for this is not the place we know. But there it is, like a hard, cold slap in the face. Horrible things have happened here and now we must work through the calamity.
When the details of sexual assault among our student body began to unfold this winter, students in my advanced audio course took on the topic in a series of radio programs called The Footbridge Forum. This program began in The School of Journalism in 2004 with a grant from The Kettering Foundation and is modeled after that organization’s National Issues Forums. A citizen panel is educated on an issue and deliberates on possible solutions with the help of a moderator. The student producers invited parents, officials, students and athletes to participate on the programs aired on KBGA College Radio this spring.
The panelists say they learned a great deal about sexual assault over the course of their deliberations. They learned rape is a crime of power, not sex and that very often rapists are known as “good guys who would never do such a thing.” The panelists came into the process thinking many rape charges came after what they called “regret sex,” when a once-willing partner has regret or embarrassment after the fact. But they were surprised to learn the overwhelming majority of rape allegations are true, and almost never a result of “regret sex.” They heard from those who would like to quit qualifying rape with terms like “date rape” or “acquaintance rape.” As one prosecutor put it, “It’s rape, it’s rape, it’s rape!” They learned sexual assault is an underreported crime because of the social stigma placed on the victim. They heard of the tendency to blame those who have been attacked for “bringing it on themselves” and were surprised to learn women are more likely to victim-blame than men.
Over the course of their deliberations, the panel came up with suggestions for preventing and dealing with sexual assault in Missoula. Their suggestions target many different stakeholders, from educators to citizens, administrators to law enforcement. You can see the full list of suggestions at www.footbridgeforum.org. The panel wanted each and every member of the community to examine his or her own role in the culture of sexual violence and work toward eliminating it.
Among their suggestions:
- Examine your own tendency to victim blame and stop victim-blaming talk when you hear it.
- Learn how to support victims and encourage them to report the violence to law officers.
- Educate yourself on the rules and laws governing communication among agencies and the public in cases of sexual assault.
- Consider how the treatment of victims may reinforce the notion that rape is somehow shameful.
- Educate young people on the role alcohol plays in sexual violence and give them tools for responsible partying.
- Focus on educating our boys and men about consent, respect and the consequences of sexual assault.
- Encourage a peer “zero tolerance” policy and support intervention when there’s potential for assault.
- Model good behavior and learn to talk to your children, especially boys, about sexual assault prevention.
- Question the role the community plays in a culture of violence and entitlement, especially among athletes.
- Demand clear communication from the university, law enforcement and the media.
- Don’t blame the media, law enforcement or the university for the problem. Place the blame where it belongs, on those who assault and rape.
We all have some very rough days ahead as we seek the truth about the violence in our community and learn from our missteps in dealing with the aftermath. But I’m confident we will work through this challenge and do the right thing. We have much to be proud of at UM and in Missoula and I hope one day we can get back to focusing on those things. For now we can all consider how we might work toward eliminating sexual violence in our community.
Associate Professor and Chair
The School of Journalism
The University of Montana
On behalf of the student producers of The Footbridge Forum: Without Consent
Jonathon Ambarian, Jamie Bedwell, Jacquelyn Coffin, Emily Creasia, Clark Hodges, Josh Nierstheimer, Mike Powell, Emily Wendler